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Football crushes Quakers in shutout game

Spooney ’14 showcased his speed with 232 rushing yards and two breakaway touchdowns

Entering the game with a losing conference record, blowing big leads in all its Ivy League matchups and hosting the reigning league champions, the football team seemed poised to continue its slide towards mediocrity. But a 27-0 thrashing of Penn (4-3, 3-1 Ivy) has thrust the Bears (5-2, 2-2) back into the mix in the Ivy League.

Playing for the first time since an injury sidelined him halfway through the Princeton game Oct. 19, John Spooney ’14 electrified Brown Stadium with 232 rushing yards and two breakaway touchdowns of over 90 yards. On the other side of the ball, the Bruno defense pitched its first shutout of the year, holding the Quakers to 249 total yards on the day.

“We came in here knowing it was going to be a physical game. We wanted our team to play physical, and I think that’s what we did,” said Head Coach Phil Estes. “We made the plays we had to make.”

The first half showcased Spooney’s game-changing speed. On the first play from scrimmage — and his first carry back from injury — Spooney tried the middle but could not find a hole, so he bounced outside. A gap opened up on the right side, and Spooney hit it with the speed that has won him five Ivy track and field championships. Ninety-three yards later, Spooney and the Bears were celebrating an early lead.

“I saw a hole (up the middle), but it closed really fast, so I had to look to other options and (the outside) was open,”  Spooney said. “I was thrilled. I came into that first play knowing that anything could happen.”

The Bears did not waste any time adding to their lead. Facing a third and six in their next possession, quarterback and co-captain Patrick Donnelly ’13.5 connected with Jordan Evans ’14 on a drag route, and the receiver showed his ability to run after the catch, breaking free down the sideline for 39 yards to the Penn five-yard line. Two plays later, a well-designed play pulled all the Bears and Quaker defenders to the right while tight end Andrew Marks ’14 went left. Donnelly floated the ball to Marks, who was all alone in the end zone, and the Bears had a 14-0 lead after two possessions.

Unlike their first two conference games — in which Bruno lost big leads in the second quarter — the Bears extended the lead in the second period. The team had its back against their own end zone for a second time early in the second quarter. Again, the Bears turned to Spooney, and again, he delivered. Exploiting a small hole up the middle, Spooney split the Quaker defense and did not stop until he hit pay dirt. The second run of over 90 yards for Spooney had the Bears comfortably ahead 21-0.

“When he plays four quarters, he can control a football game,” Estes said of his star tailback. Jokingly, he added, “the way he rips off runs, he scares me a little bit. The referees were out of breath and asked if we could slow him down.”

Late in the first half, the home team proved it was their day. Penn was knocking on the door, facing a fourth and goal at the one-yard line. But a stout defensive line dropped Quaker quarterback Ryan Becker for a loss to give Bruno the ball. Three plays into the ensuing drive, with the clock winding down in the half, Donnelly pulled a play action and hit receiver Tellef Lundevall ’13.5 over the middle for 67 yards. The bomb set up kicker Alexander Norocea ’14 for a 44-yarder as time expired, and Bruno carried a 24-point advantage into the locker room at half.

After Spooney and company built the lead, the Bruno defense ensured there would be no comeback this time. The Quakers managed just 52 yards in the third quarter, and Becker spent most of the quarter on his back thanks to an aggressive Bears’ pass rush.

“The up-front guys did a really good job of getting to the quarterback,” Estes said. “With Becker, we needed him to prove himself, we wanted him to have to pass the football, and we had some schemes to do that.”

With starting quarterback Billy Ragone sidelined with an injury, Penn struggled to move the ball the whole game. Brown Stadium has proved a difficult place for the Quakers to score points. Since 2009, the Bears have held Penn scoreless in 11 consecutive quarters of regulation play in Providence. The shutout was a major lift for the Brown defense.

The shutout “means everything,” said cornerback Emory Polley ’14. “That’s all we were talking about on the sideline. To shut a team out is a sense of pride for us.”

Every time Penn seemed to gain some momentum, Becker would be taken down for a sack. When he was able to get his passes off, Becker completed only 50 percent and was intercepted three times. Polley accounted for two of the picks, including running down and snatching an overthrown ball to seal the shutout late in the fourth.

Having won nine of its last 10 conference games, Penn did not expect to be upended by the powerful Bruno attack, especially by such a wide margin.

“I honestly did not see this coming,” said Penn Head Coach Al Bagnoli. “They just thoroughly outplayed us. They dominated us in every aspect.”

The rejuvenated Bruno team heads to New Haven, Conn., next week, looking to grab its first winning record in conference play with a win against Yale (4-3, 2-2).


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